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Judas Priest Angel of Retribution

By Jeff Kerby, Contributor
Wednesday, March 9, 2005 @ 10:10 AM

(Sony/ Epic)

- advertisement -
“Hello, is Tim ‘Ripper’ Owens there?”


“This is Mr. Inevitable calling, and I’m just calling to let you know that Rob wants his job back. Basically, Your services are no longer going to be needed.”

“Oh. No problem, I knew this would happen. Hey, you don’t happen to have Jon Schaffer’s home number, do you? I heard Iced Earth is looking for a lead singer.”

- advertisement -
Everyone knew that at some point Rob Halford was going to rejoin his old mates in Priest, so when it actually happened a little over a year and a half ago, most people (99.9%) were ecstatic… the other .1 somehow continued to proclaim Jugulator the greatest album of all time and contended that by regrouping with Halford, Priest somehow had only managed to doom itself to some type of hellish musical regression. Yeah, I don’t get it either. I will say though that Tim has traditionally gotten kind of a raw deal from metal fans in the sense that Owens should at least be credited for enabling the band to continue to tour and record during Rob’s near decade and a half hiatus from the group. In the end, it should also be noted that Tim was basically thrust into an impossible situation, and he really did about as well with it as anyone could have expected. That being said, in the minds of just about everyone, the possibility of having Rob back and recording was an exciting prospect that was only exacerbated by the band’s performance as the co-headliners of last year’s Ozzfest. How an album such as Angel of Retribution could ever live up to these monumental expectations is a mystery, but… then again, the expectations have been placed by fans for a reason, and if any collective could somehow rise from up from under the weight of this type of intense pressure, it would be the mighty Priest. Just about anyone who knows anything would have to place Halford and company in their top five metal bands all time, and Angel of Retribution just happens to be the record that marks their triumphant return. If you don’t agree that Priest is one of the best ever -- stop. Yeah, just go ahead and stop reading, breathing---and especially stop eating, ya tubby fat ass. Go and repent to the Metal Gods and immediately change your ways.

“Judas Rising” might represent the best possible way for this Priest reunion to begin. Halford’s trademark screaming combines here with Glenn Tipton and K.K. Downing’s guitar work to create the same type of metallic maelstrom that has provided the soundtrack for the lives of so many. This is without a doubt one of the top three songs on this offering and could very well be considered an instant Priest classic—it’s almost as if the introductory selection could have fit in comfortably on the revered JP album, Painkiller. The next tune is entitled “Deal With the Devil,” and it’s a song that is thematically similar to both “Heavy Duty” and “United” in that it’s essentially a musical statement declaring the band’s metal authenticity and its dutiful intent to keep rocking in the future. Notable lyric for this song:

“When we don the leather
And the whips and chains
Nothing matters we can't be tamed.”

Yeah, boyyee—‘ram it down’, indeed. I know I always want my Priest songs to come resplendent with references to leather, whips and chains--that’s good stuff right there. Maybe if there is ever a biography written about the lead singer of JP, they can title it “The Taming of Rob Halford: The Whip and Chain Chronicles.” That does bring up an important point though--I think there are two essential reasons why Halford continues to be accepted by the metal community even after his disclosure that he possesses an innate affinity for the male form which for a lesser entity would normally signify the metalhead kiss of death:

1. He is a hell of a vocalist.
2. I think we all knew it before anyway. If you weren’t cognizant of this realization on a conscious level, then this conclusion probably just manifested itself subliminally within the vast expanse of your cranium—you knew it though—you just didn’t care. Hell, I didn’t care then, and I still don’t now either. Let him break out all the whips, chains, leather and Vaseline that he wants--he deserves it. Great singer.

Anyway, besides the interesting lyrics, “Deal With the Devil” also possesses some of the best Tipton axe work present on Angel. Also, the song’s anthem-type nature also lends itself to being played live, and in fact it shows up on the prestigious set list the band is currently performing on tour. These two songs are followed by the single “Revolution,” which people on the ‘net have been proclaiming for weeks now rips off either “Mountain Song” by Jane’s Addiction, “Hang Tough” by Tesla or even “Pounding Metal” by Exciter. In truth, the intro to this song is similar to “Mountain Song” but not exactly in the same way “Ice, Ice Baby” was similar to “Under Pressure.” The most amusing aspect to this speculation though is that now metal fans all over the globe have started obsessing over every detail of Angel of Retribution in an attempt to point out how this tune or that tune indisputably sounds like something else.

The fourth track, “Worth Fighting For,” begins with an interesting drum groove that is followed by some of Ian Hill’s best bass work which lays the groundwork for Rob declarations of lost love and the solace of the desert. See, it seems that the girl in this song---oh shit, I mean the boy…no wait--the man? Hermaphrodite? Hell, I don’t know. Whoever in the hell it is, Halford sounds appropriately wrecked about the situation, and this ‘80s style mid-tempo charger fits right in with the pre-existing Priest catalogue. In the next rocker, “Dreamer Deceiver,” “Cheater” and “Exciter” now have a friend in the fifth song, “Demonizer.” This tune rocks in spite of apocalyptic lyrics that consistently harkens back to previous material:

“Hellions the steed”
“Vengeance He’ll Bring”
“The Painkiller Rises Again.”

Couple these retro lyrics with a the unfortunate chorus of: “Demonizer—out, out, demons, out” and what the listener is left with is an auditory energy jolt that mostly sounds appealing, but is ultimately not as satisfying as it could be. The lyrics don’t really get any better on the follow up, “Wheels of Fire,” either. It isn’t that the world just doesn’t need any more fast driving rebellion songs, it is just that in this category, Priest is left to compete with itself, and this offering just doesn’t measure up favorably to its predecessors, “Riding on the Wind” or “Heading Out To the Highway.” Couple this with the assertion of some that this selection is more than similar to “Attitude” from Metallica’s Reload, and what you’re left with is another song that happens to just miss the mark in at least a couple of respects. These two up-tempo songs actually manage to be upstaged by the ballad “Angel” which follows. On this inspired track, the acoustic guitar playing combines in an almost spiritual way with Halford’s best singing on the disc. If it weren’t for the fact that Priest has so many tremendous ballads, this song would have had to have been a requirement on the set list for the new shows. As good as the previous selection is, the heat gets turned back up quickly with the scorching “Hellrider,” which features a breakneck pace and Scott Travis’ most ferocious drumming on the disc. Besides being a standout rocker, this song also translates well live and is also featured on the current tour.

That brings us to the conclusion of the Judas Priest reunion album that comes in the form of an epic two-part extravaganza “Eulogy/Lochness” that logs in at a clip of about 13 minutes. Damn, think about it, you could probably whack off four or five times in that length of time, huh? Actually, that might be a better use of your time as “Lochness” has to be one of the more ridiculous lyrical collections penned in recent metal history:

Lochness confess
Your terror of the deep
Lochness distress
Malingers what you keep
Lochness protects monstrosity
Lochness confess to me

Somehow it heeds the piper
From battlements that call
From side to side it ponders
In passion in the skirl

Ok, and let’s compare those words to ones written so long ago by Judas Priest in the tune “Dreamer Deceiver”:

We felt the sensations drift inside our frames
Finding complete contentment there
And all the tensions that hurt us in the past
Just seemed to vanish in thin air

He said in the cosmos is a single sonic sound
That is vibrating constantly
And if we could grip and hold on to the note
We would see our minds were free... oh they're free

We are lost above
Floating way up high
If you think you can find a way
You can surely try

Painkiller, for all of its sonic intensity also suffered greatly from this lyrical malady. Just how does a band that pens words of such substantial depth as are present on Sad Wings of Destiny end up years later discussing the Lochness monster? It’s like when Def Leppard wrote High ‘N Dry and then at a certain point years later took on the heady subject of cleaning one’s room on Adrenalize. Of course, haha, people are also saying that this song sounds like a rip off of Black Sabbath’s “Electric Funeral” or even an Italian classical music. I don’t care about that though as much as I care about grown English men singing about Nessy of the deep. I mean, what’s on tap for the next record? Fifteen minutes about Bigfoot? I’m guessing this selection is never, EVER played in its entirety live. What the hell? At least they aren’t beating the famous icon with the aforementioned whips and chains or abusing it with lubricants.

Many will want to tout this record as being exemplary of the type of classic Priest material that has indisputably made the band one of the top metal bands of all time. In truth though, this record is actually more on par with the latest Tesla or Scorpions album, but it really isn’t much better than that—that’s okay, it isn’t like those releases weren’t quality laden in their own right. The biggest problem though is that since Priest’s legacy is bound to be viewed as historically more significant than either of those bands, JP is held to a higher standard. Musically, this disc is more than respectable, but as mentioned before, the lyrics still don’t consistently convey the intense emotion present in past efforts. Painkiller managed to get away with it, but that was mostly because the music on that release was in many respects superior to that on this record. There is bound to be a definite fanboy factor here wherein many metal fans are going to gush effusively about this disc as if it were another Screaming for Vengeance or Sad Wings of Destiny, but those listeners who are honest with themselves will recognize that it isn’t. That isn’t to say that there aren’t some major positive aspects to this record—for example, Halford’s voice sounds tremendous—as always, and the band appears inspired in every way. The brightest side of this though is that if Judas Priest decides to do another record, there’s absolutely no reason to believe they won’t build off of this and create an even more superior album the next time.

Once the discerning metalhead has made the decision to purchase this record, there is an additional choice that needs to be made when buying Angel of Retribution, and that concerns whether or not to pick up the DualDisc or choose the higher priced separate audio/DVD discs. Anyone who has previously purchased DualDiscs should know that although that format is currently running about five dollars cheaper than the two disc set, the money dropped on the more expensive version might just be a necessity. This is primarily true since many people can’t even get the DualDisc to play in their cars, and there has also been a propensity for this format to quickly become scratched and inoperable. The documentary portion of Angel of Retribution is roughly 40 minutes long, and there is dialogue from the band interspersed with the various live performances—the best of which is a performance of “Diamonds and Rust” which is almost worth the purchase of Angel of Retribution alone. The “performance” portion of the DVD available on the two-disc version actually just consists of the same songs from the documentary without the quotes from the band included. Some of the selected songs include, “Breaking The Law,” “Hell Bent For Leather” and “Living After Midnight.”

There is one point in the DVD where K.K. says that he once heard someone say “Sabbath were heavy, but Priest are metal.” In many ways, no truer words have been spoken. Whether it is ultimately deemed classic or not, Angel of Retribution merely represents the latest installment in a career worthy of its vaunted status as one of the best bands of our time regardless of style or genre.

* * * ½

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